In an effort to curb the increase of concussions in youth soccer, the United States Soccer Federation unveiled a series of safety initiatives Monday aimed at addressing head injuries in the sport — including a policy that sets strict limits on youth players heading the ball.
The new guidelines, which resolve a proposed class-action lawsuit filed against U.S. Soccer and others last year, will prohibit players age 10 and younger from heading the ball and will reduce its use in practice for those from age 11 to 13.
Youngsters will now be prohibited from using their heads to block crosses or even score the occasional goal — key components of soccer.
According to officials, heading the ball should not be allowed for any U.S. player aged under ten, and should be limited to practice sessions only for those aged 11 to 13 due to the concussion fears.
At the moment, the rules will only be mandatory for U.S. Soccer's Youth National Teams and its Development Academy, including MLS youth teams.
While those players only make up a fraction of the total number of people playing the sport, they are perhaps the most important in terms of furthering the game on a national and international level.
U.S. Soccer admits that it doesn't have the authority to force all clubs to play by the rules, though authorities say they will be putting pressure on everyone to follow their advice.
"Although they are only recommendations, they are based on the advice of the U.S. Soccer medical committee, and therefore U.S. Soccer strongly urges that they be followed," said a spokesperson.
The ruling comes after a class action lawsuit filed in California last year, bringing claims against U.S. Soccer and its associated bodies, as well as FIFA, the international governing body.
While a judge ruled that a claim in the U.S. had no authority over FIFA, the case against U.S. Soccer, as well as U.S. Youth Soccer, the American Youth Soccer Organization, U.S. Club Soccer and the California Youth Soccer Association, was allowed to proceed.
The claimants sought no financial payments, simply rule changes that brought a greater focus to the issue of head injuries within the game.
That case was settled on Monday, the same day U.S. Soccer announced these new initiatives.
What is not clear, however, is exactly how these rules will be enforced and what punishment a player on the field can expect if they decide to head the ball during a game.
There is also concern that leaving out such a major facet of the game, especially for players in national development academies, will hurt U.S. Soccer's international reputation and advancement.
Among other rule changes are allowances for a player to be substituted for a concussion check without that change counted against a team's total.